THE OUTLIERS – REVIEW
Following on from a story as strong as The Night Witches was never going to be an easy task. The Early Adventures range has gone from strength to strength, particularly with the Second Doctor. What better way was there to carry on a strong series like this than with a story from the master of the sixties, Simon Guerrier!
The staple of the Patrick Troughton era was the ‘base under siege’ trope. It really is as simple as it seems, the Doctor and his companions, in this case – Ben, Polly and Jamie, arrive in an isolated location and quickly find themselves under threat from suspicious workers who hold them responsible for things going wrong. Then the Cybermen or Ice Warriors turn up and the real villain is revealed. For the most part, this is the structure Guerrier sticks to, but he adds a few twists and turns along the way, keeping things from being traditional as much as possible.
The Yes Men saw the introduction of Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson. Also written by Guerrier, The Yes Men saw Ben removed from the proceedings by different events and was absent throughout the entirety of the third episode. This was of course because at the time of writing his scripts, he had no idea that Chapman would be taking the reins of the role played so brilliantly by Michael Craze. As a result, Guerrier has gone on record to say he wished he had done more with Chapman as Ben. He finally gets his chance in The Outliers.
With Ben Jackson being a sailor, it only seems right that he gets a story set on the water. But rather than giving him a historical story set on a ship, he finds himself in a sprawling housing estate. This location immediately sets The Outliers apart from anything that could have been achieved on television in the sixties, although they could have redressed each house to pose as another, the water-world would have been less easy to realise. Instead, it works brilliantly on audio, waves crashing, boats speeding along and an eerie dripping noise which seems to conspire to make you spend much of this story going to the loo!
The regular cast is on fine form, as always. Anneke Wills is always a welcome presence in anything she is in. She was spectacular in The Night Witches and here is no different. She effortlessly changes the pitch of her voice when she switches between narrator and Polly. Obviously being slightly older than she was as Polly, her voice has deepened, which she uses for the descriptive side of things. She still impresses as Polly, lowering her voice and recreating the character she was so brilliant at. She has a voice that makes the idea of her reading the Yellow Pages thrilling, long may she continue with Big Finish.
Frazer Hines always impresses as Patrick Troughton. If you didn’t know it was him doing the voice, you would almost swear that the producers had somehow resurrected Troughton just to do these audio adventures! Of course, his performance as Jamie is pitch-perfect and unlike The Night Witches, he gets plenty to do as our favourite Highlander!
As with the previous adventure being Anneke Wills time to shine, The Outliers is Elliot Chapman’s, who reminds us yet again why he was such a brilliant casting decision. Fans were hesitant about Tim Teloar being cast as the Third Doctor, but their worries were laid to rest the moment Chapman burst through our speakers as Ben. So perfect is he that you can’t help but imagine that Michael Craze would be very proud.
In an adventure which features four regular characters, one might be worried that one of the companions might be side-lined. In a structure like Doctor Who, that is bound to happen. Some stories don’t allow for four separate sub-plots and this results in one or two companions being caught and imprisoned, or watching events from the side-lines. Instead, Guerrier makes the interesting choice to remove the Doctor from a large chunk of the story, allowing Ben, Polly and Jamie to use their initiatives and work out the overall plot. This is a welcome change, not only because it shows us these characters at their absolute best, but allows to see what the future possibly holds for them.
Following on from The Night Witches, it is a little distracting though that this story is so narration heavy. The Night Witches was more an audio-drama than an audio-drama/narration. Indeed, in the first episode the narration takes a little getting used to. However, given how much of Guerrier’s work is normally science-heavy, (look at The Black Hole), the narration does help to explain things that wouldn’t work on audio otherwise.
Overall, The Outliers is another strong release for the Second Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie as well as The Early Adventures Range. Perhaps not as strong as The Night Witches but following on from that was always going to be a tough job. Nevertheless, this is still a strong story, with excellent writing, acting and concepts. Well done to all.
(And this story seems to imply those pictures of Ben and Polly chased by the Cybermen on a beach is canon!)